Casual Catholic Culture & Pittsburgh: No More Glorifying Fish Fries, Pierogies, and the Like

I came across a local online contest for the best local pierogies this weekend, one of those features that media sites run to generate interest and engagement. It was the final round of voting and one of the finalists is a local Roman Catholic parish here in Pittsburgh.

My initial reaction was both shock and horror. I knew intuitively that the sponsoring website had launched the contest before the release of the Grand Jury Report on the sexual violence of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but that didn’t stop me from my feelings.

How could any institution in this region even consider lifting up or celebrating Catholic social culture in these times?

Pittsburgh media & local themed sites are going to have to really wrestle with how much they incorporate Catholic institutions into things like pierogie competitions, etc. While unintentional, things like that do provide cover for the Church’s conduct.  The extent to which Catholic Culture is embedded in new media sites, blogs in lighthearted manner reflects just how deeply ingrained it is throughout our actual lives – including government contracts, influence, political access, schools, etc. This can’t be overemphasized

Media can’t legitimately cover the as news while earning clicks by including Catholic churches in fun features. It is unethical, even immoral. It is also cruel and unjust to survivors. It also certainly presents an ethical conflict to covering the stories that will unfold on this topic for years to come.

WESA 90.5 already set the bar very low when they featured during the first week of The Confluence daily news program. We know what to expect of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette these days (fascism, pettiness, and distorted truths) so it really will be the cultural/social sites that have to dig deep on this issue. And do the right thing.

I have been thinking about this for a while, before I ran across the contest I mentioned earlier. My #FishFryFriday reviews are something I genuinely enjoy and seem to be well-received, but I’ve known that this coming Lent – I’ll have to stop. Even if I were to switch to only non-Catholic venues, it would feel deeply uncomfortable to lift up a tradition that is absolutely grounded in the Church. As a survivor with too many friends to name who have suffered from this very situation, I just can’t.

You can’t neatly severe one of the worst documented cases of sexual violence in modern history from a fish fry review or any other Catholic event in Pittsburgh. And if we can’t change our culture, can we really expect legal reform? If we can’t sacrifice the symbols to minimize harm to survivors, is it realistic to think we’ll make the financial and moral sacrifices to change our laws and hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable moving forward? Or to expect the Church to accept, much less embrace, the radical transformation and sacrifice necessary to repent for their actions and help people to heal?

No one should profit from the pain of the survivors and all of us who endured this legacy of systemic sexual violence deserve our local cultural sites to be respectful, not flippant. It should be a BIG moment in Pittsburgh culture that invites every institution, from media sites to fundraisers to even the mighty Central Catholic Boys High School alumni network to wrestle with these deep issues now. Before Advent and Christmas. Before signing contracts or planning events. Before taking a single further step that will hurt people.

Media has the additional responsibility of preserving their unbiased perspective on the news. They have more to lose than the funds and friends a social activity centered on Catholic culture might bring; they have credibility and trust by a public that absolutely deserves a robust and thorough examination of this legacy. I love WESA, but I’m so angry and hurt by that decision to center the person at the heart of this anguish that I cannot bring myself to tune in right now.

This will be difficult for a region so deeply steeped in Roman Catholicism. It certainly doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we must also strenuously work to avoid a #NotAllPriests or #NotAllCatholics line of thought. There can be no clearer example of how institutional oppression and evil works than this, an oppression that stretches back millenia because people could not and would not challenge the powerful. While I certainly don’t begrudge Catholics their own expressions of faith and culture as they process this information, I do believe that businesses, organizations, websites, media, and everyone else must sever that tie.

These are the challenges we as a region must face head-on and with transparency. Sacrifices are necessary to evolve and to heal. I hope we can count on our regional institutions to do the right thing for all of our sakes.

It can’t start too soon.

h/t to Kixxle for the inspiration

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